Saratoga County leaders will take another crack at figuring out how much money the thoroughbred racing industry pumps into the Capital Region economy.
It’s a lot.
Previous studies commissioned by the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency have put the figure in the ballpark of $200 million to $250 million annually, with up to 2,000 jobs created. Racing is a huge part of the economy, in ways both obvious and subtle.
The IDA board decided earlier this week to have a local economic consultant update the figures, particularly in light of a boomlet in the New York-bred thoroughbred industry. The consultant, Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs, could have some preliminary findings before the end of the current meet at Saratoga Race Course, said Larry Benton, the IDA’s chief executive officer.
“We’re hoping to get people, particularly legislators, to take a closer look, see that [the racing industry] is more than just gambling,” Benton said.
Not that gambling is a bad thing, but it’s a risky industry right now. Risky for customers, as it always has been, but also for casino owners.
Even as the state Gaming Commission decides where to locate the state’s first non-Native American casinos, the general outlook for the industry is that there are too many geese and the golden eggs are getting soft; even the newest casino in Atlantic City will shut down, it was announced this week.
“Casinos close,” Benton said. “The track has been here for 150 years.”
The $200 million figure now in common use for the thoroughbred industry’s regional impact came from the IDA’s first study in 2006. The figure includes the cash that thousands of track visitors spend on hotels and restaurants, all Saratoga spending by the New York Racing Association and its employees and the daily costs of feed and labor at the region’s many horse-breeding farms.
Though the last update was done only three years ago, IDA officials think much has changed since then around Saratoga — plus, the general economy is better. There are four or five more hotels in the city, for one thing, and tourists are still a primary market for them.
“No one would build hotels here if it wasn’t for the racetrack,” Benton said.
Another big change since 2011 has been the opening of video lottery terminals at Aqueduct in New York City. It matters here because some of the VLT revenue goes into higher racing purses and cash incentives for the New York-bred program, which has boomed in response.
Last weekend, the Kentucky-based Fasig-Tipton auction house held its annual New York-bred yearling sale in Saratoga. The auction saw 176 youngsters sell for a total of $14.1 million. That’s up from $3.6 million for 94 New York-breds in 2010, before the VLT money began flowing.
The average price paid this year was just over $80,000, up from $72,000 a year ago. Fasig-Tipton officials said New York-bred prices have now risen five years in a row — an indication someone thinks those ponies have racing potential.
Local breeders with horses in the sale — which is separate from the larger Fasig-Tipton yearling sale held a few days earlier for all prospects — included McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds, Saratoga Glen Farm of Schuylerville and Stone Bridge Farm of Gansevoort.
The Fasig-Tipton sales bring a lot of big-spending people into the city — the type who can arrive by private jet and not blink when the check arrives at Siro’s.
“Fasig-Tipton is the straw that stirs the drink. It’s very important,” said Rod Sutton, a city resident who is on the IDA board and closely follows the racing industry.
Benton said local breeders will be interviewed as part of the economic impact study, as well as local restaurateurs, hotel managers and city merchants. The two previous studies were done by New York City economic consultants who often relied on formulas for measuring visitor spending.
The update, which is costing the IDA $19,600, should be completed this fall.